Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rolling Reconnect - what it was.

House Bill 2157 ended rolling reconnect and decoupled Oregon from the bonus depreciation business tax break. What more is there to understand? Ok, just kidding. Probably the most laughably incomprehensible lobbying hand out ever was circulated earlier this month by an economics think-tank for the floor vote on the bill. You can read that exact same article here:

I'll try to give you a better description. First, I'll attempt to define some things clearly:

Depreciation: basically the amount that a businesses' machinery, buildings, and other assets lose value every year. Businesses keep records of this as part of their accounting. They have to use formulas that are set by the government, cause the government doesn't want anybody to have any fun.

Tax Credit:
a reduction in total tax liability, often expressed as a downward revision in taxable income. In the case of a business, how that business writes its books can give it depreciation tax credits. So, how it does its accounting, and therefore its depreciation calculation, directly affects its taxable income. This is why the IRS audits businesses from time to time, and why the government is all up in businesses' grills.

Some legislators or lobbyists (nobody I worked for was directly involved in this) figured out that the federal stimulus might contain extra tax credits for businesses based on federal formulas for depreciation. The problem was that the fed wasn't just writing it as a tax credit, but actually declaring that these businesses could claim "extra" depreciation. Oregon, by law, used the federal depreciation standard - we were 'automatically coupled to bonus depreciation' to borrow language from the OCPP. Therefore businesses that got a federal tax credit for depreciation would get a second, bonus state depreciation credit. Thus, the federal stimulus would lead to a state level budget shortfall.

So, 2157 ended that, meaning that the businesses only got the federal credit, not the state one too. Oregon businesses must now track depreciation separately for both the federal and state level if the fed chooses to pass a bonus depreciation allowance.

Hope that helps....

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ban Escalators

Today, a little girl had her hand mangled in an escalator at a JC Penney in Anchorage.

Some will assert about this story that it was irresponsible for the mother to leave her child unattended. Others will point their fingers at JC Penney for failing to install modern safety features on the escalator. What I ask is a more profound question.

Why does something such as an escalator even exist? It seems that it is a trade where we expend resources producing a machine that uses power and is dangerous in exchange for the convenience of not having to expend quite as many calories going up and down staircases. Malls use escalators to force patrons to walk past more products and storefronts in search of the one going in the desired direction. Which of these 'benefits' are quantifiable as things that have improved our quality of life? To me, this is just another sad nail in the coffin of the revealed preference model.

Are we serious in our desire to promote a safe, energy efficient society? If so, we should embrace a future where there are no escalators.